By Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Recently, the media in Uganda has been awash with news about how Ugandans are being duped into sex slavery in foreign lands. These young women are running from unpaid work at home, dreaming of a better future but later discovering that they have become sex slaves.
I don't want to discuss the sex slavery part of it but rather about the unpaid work that our children are running away from. And these young women who are running away are not the only ones affected; many more remain at home doing a lot of unpaid work that is contributing to the development of our country although it is not recognized.
What is unpaid work?
According to a discussion Paper of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Unpaid work can be understood to comprise all productive activities outside the official labour market done by individuals for their own households or for others. These activities are productive in the sense that they use scarce resources to satisfy human wants.
The paper adds that ‘housework, care for children and for sick and old people, do-it-yourself jobs and voluntary community work or work in political or societal organizations, subsistence agriculture, help in family businesses, building the family house, maintenance work, transport services etc. have one thing in common: they could, at least in theory, be replaced by market goods and paid services. But they are not.
Women and girls in our communities have continued to be exploited, doing unpaid and unrecognized work for the community as men and boys go to school and to future economic empowerment as women remain in servitude.
According to the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics (UNBS) 2013 report, married women spend as much as five hours doing unpaid work more than men. The report indicates that marriage reduces the amount of unpaid domestic work for men but increases the same for women.
Remember that it is the girls who are doing almost all domestic chores before they get married as boys go out to play with their friends. This injustice and inequality to women and girls has continued and it is time policies are made to salvage the situation.
Edurida Tumushabe a counselor working with the Hunger Project in Mbarara says ‘When a woman returns home from work in the evening, she goes to the kitchen to prepare dinner for her family, arrange breakfast for the school going children as her husband sits down on the couch to relax by watching evening news on TV and reading the days newspapers'.
The UNBS report goes on to indicate that despite constitutional provisions of gender equality in Uganda, the difference between wages for men and women is still wide with men receiving almost twice the amount compared to women for the same work done.
It is common practice in Uganda that women and girls are ‘supposed' to do house cleaning, food vending, airtime vending, house helping, nursing, front desk work, cooking and all kitchen work, washing clothes.
Gender activists argue that feminizing work is a cause for concern since it hinders women to do gainful and empowering work.
Need to act
However, in order to end this discrimination against women and girls, all of us need to act on the few written policies that aim to change the status quo. For example in July 2015, while launching the UN Women's Publication of the World's Women 2015-2016 in Uganda, the EU head of delegation Kristian Schmidit asked all stakeholders to use the report and act to end all forms of discrimination against women.
This report is clear as it calls for the need to give all women access to paid work and all other occupations that not feminized in order to enable them acquire skills and therefore be able to access promotion activities. The report also recommends narrowing of the existing wage gaps based on gender.
The good news is that in Uganda, our National Development Plan 2009/2010 - 2014 - 2015, clearly recommends putting in place a minimum wage as an important step towards meaningful employment for all as it will reduce poverty and inequality.